What Is Inductive Reasoning?

Definition & Examples of Inductive Reasoning

Detective dressed in a shirt and suit jacket and wearing a badge.
••• South_agency / Getty Images

Inductive reasoning is a type of logical thinking that involves forming generalizations based on specific incidents you've experienced, observations you've made, or facts you know to be true or false.

Learn how inductive reasoning works, see examples, and compare it to deductive reasoning.

What Is Inductive Reasoning?

Inductive reasoning is an approach to logical thinking that involves making generalizations based on specific details. Inductive reasoning is an important critical thinking skill that many employers look for in their employees.

Inductive reasoning is an example of an analytical soft skill. Unlike hard skills, which are job-specific and generally require technical training, soft skills relate to how you interact with people, social situations, and ideas.

Employers need individuals who can discern patterns and use inductive reasoning to develop strategies, policies, or proposals based on those patterns. That makes inductive reasoning a useful skill to highlight in your job applications and job interviews.

How Inductive Reasoning Works

With inductive reasoning, you make observations to reach a conclusion. This skill is useful in making predictions and creating generalizations. Your conclusion may not always be true, but it should be reasonable based on the evidence.

For example, you notice that customers have bought more of your product during the third quarter of the year for the past three years. Based on that information, you predict that your customers will buy more of your product during the third quarter of the coming year and you increase production to be prepared.

Inductive Reasoning vs. Deductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning is different from deductive reasoning. With deductive reasoning, you start with a generalization or theory and then test it by applying it to specific incidents. Deductive reasoning is using general ideas to reach a specific conclusion. Inductive reasoning uses specific ideas to reach a broad conclusion. You may have heard this explained in school as going from big to small when using deductive reasoning and going from small to big when using inductive reasoning.

Scientists may use deductive reasoning to test a hypothesis in a lab. Many law enforcement, military, or corporate leaders must be able to use inductive reasoning by taking a quick sweep of a situation and making a vital, time-sensitive decision. Inductive reasoning allows individuals to accurately see the signs of something bigger at play.

Inductive Reasoning Deductive Reasoning
Using specific observations to reach a broad conclusion Using general ideas to reach a specific conclusion.
Used in law enforcement to narrow down suspects Used in science to reach a hypothesis 

Examples of Inductive Reasoning

In practice, inductive reasoning often appears invisible. You might not be aware that you’re taking in information, recognizing a potential pattern, and acting on your hypothesis. But if you’re a good problem-solver, chances are that these examples will feel familiar:

  1. A teacher notices that his students learn more when hands-on activities were incorporated into lessons. He decides to include a hands-on component in his future lessons regularly.
  2. An architect discerns a pattern of cost overages for plumbing materials in jobs and opts to increase the estimate for plumbing costs in subsequent proposals.
  3. A stockbroker observes that Intuit stock increased in value four years in a row during tax season and recommends clients buy it in March.
  4. A recruiter conducts a study of recent hires who have achieved success and stayed on with the organization. She finds that they graduated from three local colleges, so she decides to focus recruiting efforts on those schools.
  5. A defense attorney reviews the strategy employed by lawyers in similar cases and finds an approach that has consistently led to acquittals. She then applies this approach to her own case.

Requirements for Inductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning requires several skills. To develop or improve your inductive reasoning, focus on the following skills:

  • Paying attention to detail: No one can draw conclusions based on details without first noticing those details; paying attention is crucial to inductive reasoning. If you're trying to develop better inductive reasoning, start by noticing more about the things around you.
  • Recognizing patterns: Those who have strong inductive reasoning quickly notice patterns. They can see how certain objects or events lining up in a certain way can result in a common outcome.
  • Making projections: Closely related to recognizing patterns is being able to predict what the future will hold based on the information you have. Leaders can typically predict that certain decisions will lead to more group cooperation and greater success. Financial projections are one example of making projections.
  • Committing information to memory: Inductive reasoning is often directly connected to your ability to recall past events and the details leading up to those events. To bolster your memory, take notes so you can reference your observations later on.
  • Using emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to perceive the emotions that are behind people's actions. People with high levels of EI are more understanding of others and better able to get to the heart of issues between two or more people.

Key Takeaways

  • Inductive reasoning is a type of logical thinking that involves forming generalizations based on experiences, observations, and facts. 
  • Employers look for employees with inductive reasoning skills. 
  • Inductive reasoning uses specific ideas to reach a broad conclusion, while deductive reasoning uses general ideas to reach a specific conclusion. 
  • To develop your inductive reasoning, work on your attention to detail, your ability to recognize patterns and make projections, your memory, and your emotional intelligence. 

Article Sources

  1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Inductive Logic." Accessed June 21, 2020.

  2. Indeed. "Inductive Reasoning: Definition and How to Use It." Accessed June 21, 2020.

  3. Motlow State. "Deductive and Inductive Reasoning," Pages 1-2. Accessed June 21, 2020.

  4. Inc. "High Emotional Intelligence Is Essential in Today's Workplace." Accessed June 21, 2020.